Expanding on my theme of Denmark being the ‘twilight zone’ where the strange and curious are commonplace, I’ve found Danish oats to be the next weird item on the long list of weird things in this peaceful, pretty, relaxed, but strange country. Whenever I find myself in a new country I like to follow the ‘When in Rome….’ adage by trying to eat local food and follow local customs. In Germany I learned to enjoy mustard with sausages although my tastebuds have always rebelled at the taste of the foul yellow sauce. In Belgium I learned that it’s wise to eat only one cream-laden waffle at a time. In France I learned the French words for ‘snails’ and ‘frogs legs’ so that I could avoid them at all costs. In Switzerland I learned that it’s acceptable to push into a queue if you’re old and have a big stick. In Ireland I learned that if you go into one of the tiny pubs on a busy night you have to exit out the back door, because there’s no way you can push back through the crowd to get out the way you came in. In the Philippines I learned not to order anything that isn’t local cuisine, as it’s generally unrecognisable from its original form (burgers, pizza etc). Reading back over these points makes me realise that I am perhaps not the type of person who adapts easily to a foreign climate at all. I’ll have to work on that.
I now find myself living in Denmark – at least for now. Having decided that Weetabix was too British to be eating for breakfast in Denmark, I decided to select something healthy from their limited range of local breakfast cereals. A traditional breakfast here revolves around bread, cheese and cold meats with little emphasis on breakfast cereal at all. This is another thing that surprises me about this country – that they eat a lot of their food cold. COLD I tell you! Why on earth, in such a cold country, would they choose to eat cold, open sandwiches for Christmas lunch?!! Anyway, back to the breakfast cereal. I selected a bag of muesli, thinking that it couldn’t be too dissimilar to the muesli I had known and loved in the UK or South Africa. What I found, when I opened the bag, were some of the toughest oats known to man and could possible be used as heat-proof coating on a space craft. They actually clinked against the porcelain as I poured them into the bowl. ‘This can’t be good’, I thought. ‘How do the Danes eat these things?’ I asked myself, holding one oat up to the light, putting my glasses on to examine it more closely. ‘With difficulty’ would be my response. ‘Still’, I thought, ‘there must be a way to prepare this stuff.’ I tried adding some rice milk straight from the fridge. Why rice milk? I know, right? You might as well use water, but I’ve been persuaded that dairy should be minimised in the diet, so I’m trying out the theory. Sorry, cows.
The addition of the rice milk did nothing to break down the oats’ defences. I tried a spoonful eagerly, but gingerly. It was like eating a mouthful of shirt buttons and equally hard to chew and digest. I wasn’t beaten yet. I grabbed my perfect pot (every kitchen should have one) and filled it with the mess of oats and rice milk. I then proceeded, as the Irish say, to cook ‘the bejesus’ out of those stubborn oats. After 10 minutes, they looked as if they had finally surrendered. I slopped the cowering oats back into my bowl and waited for them to cool. However, while some of the brittle fruit pieces had softened, the oats were still doggedly maintaining their shape. They seemed to be taunting me, saying: ‘Never give in. Never surrender!’ It suddenly occurred to me that the oats are characteristic of the Danes themselves. They resist change with every fibre of their being until there is no other choice but to embrace it. There have been times, in my job as an IT consultant, when I would gladly have cooked some Danes in a pot until they accepted the change I was trying to introduce into the workplace. However, I imagine that boiling Danes in a pot is a punishable offence even in Denmark, so I didn’t try it.
I may have mentioned that I love the Danes in spite of my incredulity at their idiosyncrasies? They’re friendly and welcoming people who always seem to be cheerful, but their stubborn resistance to change extends to their laws, which are obeyed to the letter. If the Danish government decides that a particular type of food is harmful to the health, then they inform the people and the people then simply stop eating that particular type of food….immediately and en masse. I was crossing a road with my family in the town of Kolding, Jutland, but the ‘don’t walk’ red man was on, so we stopped briefly to consider our options. Groups of locals were also waiting patiently for the red man to become a green man. Since it was a quiet side street, we looked left, then right, then left again and crossed despite the red man. We could actually hear the intake of breath of those around us and sense the disapproval at such foolish action that flouted the rules of Danish society. It’s also interesting to note that, in a country where bicycles are so prevalent, all Danish cyclists, almost without exception, park their bikes front wheel first so that the front wheel is in the bike rack. None are reversed into place in any line of bikes. Conformity appears to be paramount in this country, but perhaps that’s what gives rise to the extraordinary peace and contentment. I feel kinda guilty parking my bike rear wheel first just to be different.
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